Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Personal Demons

"Even magic can't banish her personal demons. She's got to face them down on her own." This quote from Luc, a real demon sent to earth to tag Frannie Cavanaugh's soul for Hell, gives a bit of a glimpse into the layers of this wonderful debut novel by Lisa Desrochers. Sure, it's a paranormal aimed at teenage girls, but it's also a tension-filled, romantic, scary struggle between the forces of Good and Evil battling over a soul that is already conflicted and filled with remorse and guilt. The fact that said forces themselves often blur the lines makes this story so much more than just a fun romp filled with otherworldly creatures. In fact, it's often so dark in tone that I found myself worried about the final outcome.

Frannie should be excited to be graduating high school, yet there's a dark cloud hanging over her life: her brother Matt died tragically ten years earlier and Frannie is convinced it was her fault. While her family is religious, Frannie has forsaken God because He allowed Matt's death, which makes her all the more susceptible to the charms of newcomer Luc, a boy whose dark personna and sexy overtures makes Frannie's heart race. What she doesn't know is that Luc has been sent by Satan to get Frannie to sin in order to tag her soul, and even Luc doesn't know why Satan wants her so badly. Luc thinks this is going to be easy...until angelic Gabe arrives, ready to steal Frannie's attentions away from the devil. But why on earth is there all this fuss over a teenaged girl's soul?

The sexual tension in Personal Demons literally pulsates off the page, and while there are scenes of actual encounters, it's more about the longing and the wanting Frannie experiences as she is pulled between Heaven and Hell. But lest it seem trite, this book is really about so much more...what makes a person turn from God in such a religious household? Can a person be "saved" against her will? And what happens when a demon falls in love? Can a demon be "saved"?

There's a lot of back and forth between Frannie and Gabe and Luc, which is probably the only issue I have in this story. I understand the attractions of the two guys but I wanted her to make a choice and stick with it. But the process of Luc realizing he might not be able to complete his mission is well developed, and Frannie's struggles with her own guilt are authentic. This is so much more than just a fun young adult book: it's one that's going to have me thinking about it for a long time to come. I admit it: Personal Demons captured me. Recommended.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bumped by Megan McCafferty

Megan McCafferty's young adult book Bumped is set in a dystopian America some twenty to thirty years in the future. A virus has rendered everyone sterile once they pass the age of eighteen, and suddenly, teens are in demand as baby factories. And once Melody Mayflower actually signs a contract to "bump" for a wealthy family, the floodgates are opened; all young girls set their sights on lucrative contracts in uterus-for-hire agreements. Melody's pay off may be the biggest of all: six figures, college expenses, and more, with her selected couple busy choosing just the perfect young man for her to pregg with. Life's going well until her identical twin sister, from whom she's been separated since a baby, arrives. Harmony was adopted into a religious community and sees Melody's choice as immoral, and it becomes Harmony's mission to "save" her sister.

There's lots going on in Bumped, and it's all very intriguing. Melody is annoyed with her twin suddenly appearing, clad head to toe in old-fashioned clothes and spouting Bible verses, and Harmony, while proud of her upbringing, seems to be harboring some strong secrets of her own. Melody's parents are MIA, off traveling on the expected money Melody is going to earn when she fulfills her contract. Meanwhile, there is Zen, Melody's male friend who maybe feels more for Melody than she'd expected. When Melody's agent calls with the outstanding news that her contracted couple has secured the hot sperm donor teen hero, Jondoe, as her bumping partner, she should be ecstatic, only it isn't Melody who takes the's Harmony. And what happens next sets events in motion that neither sister could have foreseen.

I like dystopian novels, and Bumped is no exception. While I might have wished for Harmony's Christian heritage to seem a little less Amish/fundamentalist, I think the polarizing lives of the twins is well done, with the secrets the two harbor giving added dimension to what might have been just another relationship tale. I *still* don't know if I should trust playboy Jondoe or not, and I was cheering Zen on from the first time I saw him. The slang of the future is well done and consistent, and Melody's friends' plights show the dark side of what the society is doing to young girls who really aren't ready for what their bodies say they are. I admit I'm hooked and can't wait for the next installment. This one's thought provoking on many levels, with relatively naive teens facing huge consequences in the name of a "better" life. Recommended.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Graveminder by Melissa Marr

I've been struggling over this review for a bit now--normally I love Melissa Marr's writing and The Graveminder sounded wonderful when I read the synopsis. And the idea of the world of The Graveminder is very intriguing: a small town has a tunnel, unknown to almost all, to the land of the dead, and the Graveminder and her counterpart, the Undertaker, must make sure that the dead don't cross back into the land of the living because the dead in our world see the living as lunchables. It's just that the execution of this story is, well...not so hot.

The biggest problem for me is that I never once warmed up to any of the characters. The story opens on Maylene, the town's Graveminder, being murdered by an escapee from the dead; her granddaughter (though not by blood--this point is hammered home again and again and again) Rebekkah is summoned home to the funeral, which must take place within a day because there's a law against embalming in Claysville. Rebekkah has spent the past 9 or 10 years running away from Claysville and her sometime lover, Byron; Byron, newly returned home to Claysville to work with his father in the funeral home business, was once in love with Rebekkah's step-sister Ella (who killed herself years before). Rebekkah loves Byron and Byron loves Rebekkah but Rebekkah believes they can't be together, so they aren't, until she returns home and it is revealed that, upon Maylene's death, Rebekkah has been named the new Graveminder (a position neither she nor Byron knew anything about). Byron, by default, is the new Undertaker, the man charged with protecting the Graveminder and escorting her back and forth from the land of the dead and also from the mysterious Mr. D (Mr. Death? Mr. Devil? Mr. Davis?), who seems to be in charge of the dead. Also, there is evidence that a waking dead person is snacking on townspeople; we do get some chapters from the surprisingly engaging Daisha, teen Hungry Dead person.

Maybe it was my lack of attention but I feel like very little in the story was fleshed out. I got the idea of a land of the dead, and that's a fascinating idea. But even though it was explained Why Claysville?, I just felt as though it was thrown together, not thought through. I got that Rebekkah is drawn to the land of the dead, and Mr. D does seem charming throughout, but honestly, why was she in love with the land of the dead? There is a whole sub-plot involving former Graveminder Alicia (whom I really liked, btw) and her problems with Mr. D, and maybe I missed it, but...what exactly happened between those two? And Byron and Rebekkah both left me cold; there was so much waffling on both parts ("I love you, but I can't be with you"..."I dont' want to be with you but here, help me take off my clothes so I can lie celibately next to you because I really do want you--hey, why are you mad?") that I did not care if they ended up together or not. Actually, I did care; they deserved one another so that no one else would get caught up in their inabilities to make a commitment.

It may seem I'm being overly rough on this story, and perhaps I am, but I've come to expect a much higher degree of world-creation and relationship building from Ms. Marr, and this one has left me flat. I'm giving it three stars, rounded up from 2.5, because there were moments when Daisha and the land of the dead were interesting and rife with possibilities. I just expect more from someone from whom I've experienced tension, magic, and beauty in spades before.


Monday, April 11, 2011

My Soul to Steal

In Book 4 of the Soul Screamers series, Kaylee, our resident bean sidhe, is rebounding after the betrayal of boyfriend Nash, who had become hooked on Demon's Breath in the previous book. Nash sold some of his memories of Kaylee in order to score for his addiction, as well as allowing a hellion to enter her body, and while Kaylee realizes it was the drug in charge, it's very hard for her to work past the feelings of hurt. Nash is penitent, willing to do whatever he can to keep Kaylee from pushing him away; that is, until Sabine, ex-flame and literally a Living Nightmare, arrives in town and all hell breaks loose.

My Soul to Steal is very much about Kaylee's desire to be with Nash but her unwillingness to risk his possible relapse into the dangers of addiction; her constant waffling on whether or not it's wise to be with him almost makes the book founder at times because you just want her to make up her mind once and for all. What doesn't help is the seductive, determined Sabine, Nash's first love and the one he lost his virginity to; Sabine won't take no for an answer, and Nash, while seeming uninterested in rekindling the romance, does seem to need Sabine's friendship desperately since she understands what he's going through. Meanwhile, as Kaylee is in turmoil over Sabine, it becomes apparent that a hellion is once again on the loose and Eastlake High School is its target. When three teachers die and a host of wild behavior begins, it's easy to blame Sabine; but Alec (saved in the last book from the evil clutches of Avari), also seems involved. When danger threatens Emma, Kaylee's best friend, it's time to head back into the Netherworld.

This entry in the series is a page turner, with Ms. Vincent giving a very realistic look at high school relationships (even if living Nightmares and hellions are involved...wait, doesn't that describe high school perfectly? lol). Kaylee's conflicted feelings are normal yet annoying, and Sabine is the perfect catalyst to force Kaylee into deciding whether or not she really wants to get back together with Nash. While Tod is often the hero and the voice of reason, I'm beginning to get a vibe that perhaps he has deeper feelings for Kaylee than he'd previously let on. Well constructed and absorbing, My Soul to Steal is a solid story that has me ready to grab Book Five as soon as it's available.


Wednesday, April 06, 2011

When Harry Met Sharon...

Peachy Keen

I heart Sarah Addison Allen.

Whew, glad to get that off my chest. I've read her three previous novels and enjoyed all three, so my expectations were high for The Peach Keeper. I have to admit, I was a little concerned when I saw how small this novel is because honestly, I enjoy spending time with Allen's characters so much that I felt I wasn't going to get my money's worth. And while that still remains my main complaint about this novel, I am definitely pleased to say that my expectations were met just fine...not something that happens frequently with beloved authors.

The Peach Keeper is set in Walls of Water, a sleepy little mountain town in NC. In high school Willa was the silent class joker; Paxton was the goody goody popular girl; Sebastian was the oddball outcast; and Colin, Paxton's twin, was the slightly stiff hunk. Fast forward and they are all now in their early 30s, and life hasn't turned out to be what any of them had envisioned in high school. In fact, their days rarely if ever intersect until Paxton, a captive still to her mother's wishes, decides to renovate the Blue Ridge Madam, a stately home that was once the family seat of Willa's family before they became impoverished in the 1930s. Willa is reluctantly drawn back into the house when Paxton wishes to honor their grandmothers' friendship by including Willa in the opening gala. When a body is discoverd on the grounds, events take a more curious turn--why is the body buried with a fedora? What are the old newspaper clippings about?

In my estimation, there isn't as much magic in this story as in the previous novels by Ms. Allen, but that doesn't mean the spark isn't there. The author excels at tentative romance, and this book has some moments that shine between the main characters. I do believe the story could have stood a bit more fleshing out--I would like to have learned more details of the grandmothers' relationship,for example,but all in all, this is a gem of book. Ms. Allen has once again delighted this reader with her unique characterizations and her interesting settings. Recommended.